With DSLRs and mirrorless cameras seemingly dominating the camera market you could be forgiven for wondering where, exactly, a bridge camera sits within this competitive arena. But they do offer something unique.
Bridge cameras stand apart from other formats because they provide a powerful zoom lens capable of shooting wide-angle and extreme telephoto. And since the lens isn’t removable there’s no need to carry additional lenses and risk sensor dust while changing them.
The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 (known as the FZ82 outside the US) follows a succession of attractive and feature-packed bridge cameras from Panasonic; it's a small and lightweight all-in-one camera capable of shooting practically any subject you point it at.
- 1/2.3-inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor, 18.1MP
- 20-1200mm f/2.8-5.9 zoom lens
- 3.0-inch touchscreen, 1.040,000 dots
The FZ80 / FZ82 manages to cram in a 60x optical zoom, which provides a very broad focal range of 20-1200mm, so perfect for squeezing loads into the frame or zooming into your subject.
Unlike some of the much higher-priced bridge cameras we've seen recently, like the FZ2000 / FZ2500, which sports a large 1-inch sensor, the FZ80 / FZ82 employs a 18.1MP 1/2.3-inch chip, which in real terms is the same size as that found in many entry-level compact cameras.
The difference between this and a compact, however, is the enormous zoom range and DSLR style controls that are on offer, not to mention the 4K video and stills functionality, which we’ll get to later. With the smaller physical sensor size in mind the resolution has sensibly been kept below 20MP, which will help to reduce noise levels when shooting at higher ISO settings.
The ISO range itself has been kept within a narrow but usable range, running from ISO80-3200, so in low-light conditions you'll almost certainly need to use the built-in optical image stabilization, or, for longer exposures/slower shutter speeds, mount the camera on a tripod.
Start-up time is slow compared to some cameras, with a lag of around one second when switching the camera on and off. It’s not the end of the world, but when many cameras offer fraction-of-a-second start-up times it would certainly be welcomed here.
However, what the FZ80 / FZ82 lacks in speed when you turn it on, it more than makes up for with a number of functions designed to help you capture split-second action.
4K Photo is an innovative feature found on higher-spec Panasonic cameras, so to see it on an entry-level model such as this is fantastic. This feature allows you to capture a burst of 30 frames per second at 4K resolution, which is 3840 x 2160 pixels, from which you can extract an 8MP image.
This is large enough to print up to just under A4 size, so perfect for snapshots. When reviewing images on the FZ80 / FZ82 you can select a single frame from the burst by scrolling through and selecting the best option, which will then be saved as a JPEG.
There are three settings available. 4K Burst is best for fast-moving subjects; here you press and hold the shutter button to capture a sequence of images. There is a 0.5-second delay after pressing the shutter button, so it pays to anticipate the subject and release the shutter early.
For more unpredictable subjects, 4K Burst (S/S) is best. This requires you to press the shutter button to begin capturing a burst, before pressing it a second time to stop. In this mode you can place markers within the burst to help you quickly find the best frame(s) later.
The final option is 4K Pre-Burst, which is more of an all-rounder. With the camera aimed at the subject it will capture roughly one second before and one second after the shutter has been released, giving you the best chance of capturing the perfect image.
These modes are a great feature, and they can be used to capture a range of fast-moving and unpredictable subjects, although they will of course eat up space on your memory card. If you think this is a feature you’re likely to use often then invest in high-capacity and high-speed SD cards to ensure that your storage is up to the job – you'll also need these if you're shooting 4K video.
If you want to shoot high-resolution video you’ll be pleased to hear that the FZ80 / FZ82 offers 4K recording at up to 30p, Full HD at up to 60p, HD at up to 100p and VGA at up to 200p. While the latter option is extremely low-quality, shooting slow motion can be a lot of fun. Sound can be recorded in both stereo and mono using the built-in microphone, but there's no socket for an external mic.
Another innovative 4K feature of the FZ80 / FZ82 is Post Focus mode. In this mode you take a shot, and you can then touch the screen to select the point of focus. It’s a handy feature, although with such a small sensor depth-of-field is generally quite large, so it's more appropriate for shooting close-ups or macro that for general subjects.
Build and handling
- Manual, semi-auto and auto modes
- Poor EVF
Considering the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 weighs 616g with battery and SD card, it feels surprisingly light in the hand. This is due to the well-balanced design that’s not dissimilar to that of an entry-level DSLR, and which features a comfortable grip and thumb plate on the back. In fact, a quick glance at the camera and you could easily mistake it for a DSLR.
On the top you’ll find the familiar mode dial offering direct access to the most commonly used shooting modes, including manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, program, Intelligent Auto, Creative Video, C (Custom), Panorama Shot, Scene Guide, Creative Control and video.
Buttons in general have been kept to a minimum, and are all clearly labelled, so finding your way around as your skills grow shouldn’t be a problem. Menu-based shooting modes include Multi Exposure, Time Lapse Shot and Stop Motion Animation.
The menu system is similarly well laid out and easy to navigate, although once the desired file format and quality are set you could quite easily stay out of the menu for some time, taking advantage of the various direct access buttons on the camera body to access the most commonly used settings.
Moving round to the back of the Panasonic FZ80 / FZ82, you’ll find a clear and crisp, fixed 3-inch 1,040,000-dot LCD touchscreen that can be used to tap-focus and change settings, as well as to compose shots and review images.
You can also use the LCD to select the focus point when composing with the 1,170,000-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is a nice touch – just watch out for your nose touching the screen and changing the focus point.
The LCD screen is great, but when shooting with the lens zoomed in it can be more effective to use the EVF. That said, while the image in the viewfinder is clear, it's let down by a low magnification, so it’s small and feels like it’s at the end of a short tunnel – this makes it difficult to read the camera settings that are visible, and moving back to the LCD for this can prove more comfortable on the eye.
Another point worth mentioning is that the EVF lacks the punchy colours and contrast of the LCD. On the plus side the EVF eyepiece sits out from the body, which avoids the need to squash your face up against the back of the camera. There isn't an eye sensor though, so you'll have to manually switch between the EVF and LCD.
- 1cm minimum focus distance
- Fast AF
- Full sensor point selection
The FZ80 / FZ82 delivers lightning-fast AF that locks onto subjects almost instantly as you depress the shutter button halfway. And when shooting with the lens set to 20mm you can take advantage of a minimum focus distance of 1cm when AF Macro is set, although as you extend the zoom the minimum focus distance increases, to 1.5m at 1200mm.
It would be great to be able to focus at a shorter distance with longer focal lengths, but this is a standard behavior of telephoto lenses, so it’s not out of the ordinary.
Focus modes include Face/Eye Detection; Tracking, which will identify and track moving subjects in the frame, 49-area auto selection; Custom Multi, which allows you to set an AF point pattern in the desired area and save custom settings; 1-area single point; and Pinpoint, which shows a zoomed area around the pinpoint area selected.
There’s also a Manual focus mode, which allows you to autofocus and then locks the focus at that setting. It’s not manual focus as you know it – you don’t turn a focus ring – but it will be handy for situations where focus needs to remain locked on a specific part of the frame.
As on most Panasonic Lumix cameras you can select a single AF point by simply touching the LCD screen when in 1-area mode, and this can also be done while using the EVF; using the thumb and forefinger to pinch allows you can change the size of the single AF point. The overall simplicity of operation here reflects the overall ease of use that’s evident across the camera’s overall design.
- Optical image stabilization
- 4 sec – 1/2000 sec mechanical shutter
- 330-shot battery life
The jewel in the crown of the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82, which we’ve already mentioned, is the fast contrast-detect AF; Panasonic says this can lock onto subjects in as little as 0.09 secs, and it certainly is fast.
To further assist with the capture of fast-moving action, the FZ80 / FZ82 can shoot at up to 10fps, although it can only do so in single-shot AF mode; in continuous AF mode it can manage 6fps, which is a good figure, but continuous AF is more likely to be used for moving subjects, and is where a higher frame rate is more beneficial.
The number of shots you can expect from a fully charged battery when using the rear LCD is 330, while if you're using the EVF this drops to 240. The thing about a camera such as this, with a motorised zoom, EVF and LCD is that you’re always going to be drawing power, so the true battery life will depend on a number of factors, including how much you're zooming in and out, and the settings and features you’re using.
For shooting in low-light conditions, or at shutter speeds not fast enough to support the focal length of the lens, the Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 features Panasonic's Power O.I.S. Image stabilization, which is excellent. Whether you’re shooting stills or video the stabilization is highly effective, even when shooting at the maximum focal length of 1200mm. During our testing we found it was possible to shoot indoors at shutter speeds as low as 1/5 sec with the lens at 20mm.
The FZ80 / FZ82 offers Wi-Fi connectivity for easy image-sharing, with options in the menu to connect to a Wi-Fi enabled TV. The easiest way to connect a smartphone or tablet to the camera is using the Panasonic Image App – this allows you to browse and share images remotely, as well as view a live feed from the camera and change settings.
Since it’s a Wi-Fi connection it can sometimes be fiddly to connect the camera, and, once connected, losing the link between smart device and camera isn’t uncommon. That said, it’s a handy feature that’s definitely worth investigating.
- Impressive lens performance
- In-camera effects
The limitation of any bridge camera compared to other types of cameras with larger sensors is always going to be image quality. With such a small sensor noise will be present even at ISO100, and the Panasonic FZ80 / FZ82 is no exception. In an ideal world you wouldn’t want to shoot at higher than ISO800, as sharp subject edges and detail begin to suffer even at this level; ISO1600 could suffice in an emergency, but ISO3200 is extremely noisy.
The best strategy to maintain image quality, of course, is to keep the ISO as low as possible, using flash for portraits and a tripod for landscapes and other static subjects. Shooting raw will allow you to apply more bespoke noise reduction to images than shooting in JPEG, where the camera applies processing, although JPEG processing isn’t too bad up to ISO800.
The bottom line when it comes to image quality is that, in order to pack in features such as the 20-1200mm zoom, a small sensor is a necessity.
The Lumix DC Vario lens is made up of 14 elements in 12 groups, using aspherical lenses, aspherical surfaces and ED lenses, and features an f/2.8-5.9 maximum aperture. The lens exhibits very little, if any, barrel distortion at 20mm or pincushion distortion at longer focal lengths. High-contrast subject edges can suffer from chromatic aberration, but it's not too bad considering the focal range of the lens, and is easy enough to correct in post-processing.
If image processing is something you haven’t yet got to grips with, then shooting JPEGs will be the obvious choice for you, and if you want to apply particular styles to your images then the Panasonic FZ80 / FZ82's Creative Control mode has 22 effects that you can apply to your shots in-camera.
Some of these are actually very good – which ones you like or dislike will come down to personal taste. Once selected the effects are visible on the LCD or through the EVF, although with some effects requiring fairly heavy processing the live view can become laggy. Also, when using these effects the camera goes into Auto mode, so you lose control of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, but you can use exposure compensation, select focus points and adjust the overall strength of the effect.
The Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 sets itself apart from interchangeable-lens cameras by offering all the controls you need for all types of photography, alongside a lens with a 20-1200mm focal range – and that zoom range alone makes a compelling case for amateur photographers to choose the FZ80 / FZ82 for use at home, on days out or on holiday.
Features such as 4K stills are designed to make the capture of fleeting moments even easier, and within the grasp of those who haven’t spent a lifetime behind the camera working professionally. The camera is incredibly easy to use, and the menus feel light and not at all intimidating, making it ideal for beginners.
The biggest let-downs are the EVF magnification, and the lack of an eye sensor to automatically switch between Live View on the LCD and the EVF. Noise at the highest ISO settings the camera offers is high, but shouldn’t prove too much of an issue for the photographers this camera is aimed at.
Put into context, though, none of those are deal-breakers, and when weighed against the convenience, features and price, the Panasonic Lumix FZ80 / FZ82 is an attractive proposition for beginners who are looking to take more control of their photography without the need for a bag full of lenses.
If you’re looking for a camera that will, forgive the pun, bridge the gap between compacts and DSLRs, the FZ80 / FZ82 will do just that, and very well.
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